Iceland – glaumbær and the fish tannery


Hello, today I am back with more photos from my trip to Iceland, this time some pictures from the Glaumbaer Turf House and Folk Museum and the Fish Tannery – very different from each other but very interesting! We first visited the Turf house with its adjacent folk museum, these wood-fronted turf-walled and turf-roofed dwellings were inhabited until 1947. Iceland, much like Shetland is pretty tree-less so these buildings were an answer to the lack of wood available. Many aspects of the house are wood but the roof and walls are all made from turf and turf bricks.

col1Some of the front rooms were quite basic and sparsely decorated, with the open turf walls but other rooms were pretty fancy and you forgot the walls were made from earth!

IMG_5555 IMG_5557 Adjacent to the turf house is a lovely tea room and folk museum, filled with items from the last century or so. The house was moved to the site in 1991 as an example of the kind of house that came after the Turf houses. The house is typical of that of a rural Icelander of the time and it was a very sweet building, I loved the blues and greens that were everywhere.

IMG_5575col2IMG_5573 IMG_5572 IMG_5565 There was even an old knitting machine!


After we had been to the museum we headed further north to go to the Fish Tannery in Sauðárkrókur. It is the only tannery in Europe that makes fish leather.. yes fish leather, its a thing! (these photos are of animal skins, if you are offended.. sorry!)


My friend Vivian has done a lot of work with fish skins so I knew it was something that could be done but I was amazed at all the different things they can do with it! As well as working with fish they also make more traditional animal skin products from sheep, horses and cows.


I’m afraid, well maybe not – I’m allowed my own opinions after all, I really quite like sheepskins and stuff.. not like mink coats or anything but these products which are by-products in fact, of the food industry are lovely. At the end of the day, these animals are raised for meat and if someone can get warmth from the skin which would otherwise be destroyed.. why not? spoken like a true granddaughter of a crofter!


We were shown around the tannery by one of the ladies who worked in the family business and she showed us all aspects of the process.


There were huge vats full of water and fish skin which had just come from presumably wherever they used the meat (meat? is that the right word for fish?) for the food industry.


As we were going around I was thinking that surely you would have to sew together lots of fish to get a big enough piece to do anything with but I was amazed how much the fish skin stretched when it was cured – Amazing!


The products made from the fish skins are extremely high end and the company travels to many places in the year like Japan and Milan to trade shows to gain contracts for the big fashion houses.


I thought it was really brilliant what they were doing. The tannery was located in a small fishing town and its great that this unusual technique is happening right there and ending up on the catwalk!


She also showed us upstairs in their sample room some other examples of things which could be made from animal skin, like polar bears, artic foxes and even a cat! I refrained from taking a picture of that.. I know there is a lot of cat lovers around..!

next time.. the textile museum!


14 thoughts on “Iceland – glaumbær and the fish tannery

  1. I really like these posts on your trip. I have been looking at the possibility of doing one myself and your posts are really inspiring. I think you’re right, if we grow animals for food we should use all of it.

  2. Fish skins — who knew? Fascinating. Did they smell? I think Icelanders once used fish skins instead of glass in windows. Do you know anything about that? I’ve been to Iceland once & did the regular touristy things, which were wonderful, but obviously missed a lot & need to go back!

  3. I didn’t have the opportunity to see the tannery. Your post about it is interesting and I did see some of the dyed fish leather used in garments and accessories.
    I love the peek inside the turf house. Your photos of the details really tell a story.

  4. I love sheepskin too. I didn’t have a blankie as a child, instead my mama put me to sleep on a sheepskin (that I named Sheepie), so digging my fingers into a sheepskin is also super, duper relaxing for me.
    There’s a stall at the farmers market we go to sometimes that has rabbitskins also, by-products of the rabbit meat. And they’re so pretty and soft and I want one, but I also think a lot of people I know would be kind of freaked out/disgusted by it.

    Have to admit, the mention of the polar bear kind of freaks me out. Not sure how it is in Iceland, but in the USA they’re a threatened species, and my workplace has done a lot of work to protect them and their habitat so… argh!

    1. They only had stuff from two polar bears, they had floated down on ice from Greenland I think and they were so starved and crazed that they had to shoot them as they were so dangerous, they wouldn’t go out to find ones!

  5. I loooove knitting and anything made from wool…….but skins…….NO WAY…..I just see dead creatures!

  6. Very interesting, thankyou. I’ve read about fish skins but didn’t know how it was done – didn’t Helene Magnusson write about the fishskin shoes with the knitted sole inserts?
    As for animal skins, our Western society has become squeamish and in my opinion, a little ridiculous. Having grown up an English townie, I had to learn to accept our Swiss country life where cute bunnies are kept not as pets but as meat and the kids know this and find it perfectly normal. My first childminder had her cat’s skin hung on the wall as a souvenir, I guess she figured why not, since she’d loved the cat and it had had beautiful fur… I probably wouldn’t go that far! She also told me if I ever bought rabbit to make sure the head and hind legs were on because otherwise I might be sold cat :o
    Sheepskin or cow hide are important by-products of an agricultural economy and I don’t have a problem with them at all, not even horse-hide – I had a pony of my own for 25 years and here it is quite normal to eat horsemeat (local) and use the by-products, anything else would be a waste. Again, a friend insisted on keeping the tails of her two favourite horses when they had to be put down, as proof that they hadn’t been sold on, which in its way, is logical, too.

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